New England residents can contact the University of Massachusetts for reasonably priced soil testing. These tests offer detailed information about your garden soil's local condition, including the levels of organic matter present and pH level. Alternative tests can tell the activity of microorganism populations and nutrient depletion rates within the soil. This information may save you time and/or money in the future.
University of Massachusetts Soil Testing
You can download and print a soil testing order form from the University of Massachusetts online Extension website. To collect soil samples, survey your yard and dig small samples from at least 12 areas of your garden, digging no deeper than 6 inches. Mix your soil and leave to air dry.
Place the sample in a small plastic cup with a tight lid, and label the container. Mail the container, along with a check or money order for the amount shown on the website, to the address provided. As of 2011, a full test is no more than $13 per sample and $60 for a separate soil texture test, and it takes two to three weeks for the test results to come back.
Soil Food Web
The soil food web is a technical term for the map of mutually beneficial organisms that help in all biological functions within plants. Gardeners who expect flourishing gardens can use soil testing to analyze organism population counts that are essential in nutrient creation and soil aeration. Microorganism populations are particularly necessary.
"Soil biomass testing" is the technical term for measuring the weight of organism populations within any given portion of soil. The test gives data on organism biomass for bacteria, fungi and protozoa within the soil environment. Biomass testing is available upon consultation and prior arrangement with the university. Pricing is on a case by case basis.
To avoid nutrient deficiency within the garden, soil analysis by the University of Massachusetts can give recommendations on the proper feeding of the soil based on the three macronutrients all plants require; nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus. Micronutrients such as magnesium and calcium levels are also measured. Its labs can identify and recommend food to increase fungal or bacterial production within the soil.
The easiest means of collecting soil samples involves purchasing simple home testing kits that measure soil pH levels. If gardeners are concerned only with pH levels, this can help eliminate the need for formal testing through the university. Alternative tests can be found through multiple soil testing companies that specifically measure root density and microorganism colonies.